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Helping Hands: For many women, Kathleen Sutton Fund is a ‘lifesaver’ | Kitsap Week

Kathleen Sutton - Vivi-Ann Parnell / Contributed
Kathleen Sutton
— image credit: Vivi-Ann Parnell / Contributed

June Morane of Kingston heard of the Kathleen Sutton Inspirational Fund by chance.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in January, Morane had two lumpectomies in the spring and followed up with radiation treatment in May. Although she was fortunate enough to receive her treatment at Peninsula Cancer Center in Poulsbo, the retired single mother was concerned about paying for the gas to drive her to her 30 treatments.

“It was a godsend, literally,” Morane said of the fund. “It was a miracle for me. I didn’t know how I was going to pay for that gas.”

Morane was at Fishline Food Bank in Poulsbo when she heard someone ask for a gas voucher. Morane also inquired, hoping to receive some money to offset her nearly daily visits for treatment. When she explained the reason for needing gas money, a worker at Fishline told her about the Kathleen Sutton Inspirational Fund and gave her Vivi-Ann Parnell’s number.

Parnell is one of the founders of the fund. She was friends with the organization’s namesake, who died in 2004.

Parnell said the pain of being diagnosed with cancer is overwhelming — physically, emotionally and, in many cases, financially. The fund helps cover the travel expenses that many West Sound women face when trying to get to their treatments.

The women started the fund in 2003, and as the nonprofit prepares for its 10th annual fundraising auction, more women are reaping the rewards.

The fund recently expanded to include women diagnosed with all female-related cancers (ovarian, uterine, cervical and breast cancers) who live in Kitsap, Jefferson or Clallam counties. The fund helps cover the cost of ferry tickets, gas, taxis and parking. The fund’s board members work with patient navigators and social workers at cancer treatment centers in Seattle and Sequim.

“You can have a nice house, but maybe you don’t have the money to buy the tickets, buy the gas,” Parnell said. “We believe in women.”

Parnell used to drive her friend from Sutton’s home in Shine to treatment in Seattle. One day in 2003, they discussed the difficulty of paying for so much travel. Both women were involved in the local Susan G. Komen Foundation, but that day Parnell suggested holding their own fundraiser.

“Instead of [the money] going to a big national organization, why don’t we keep the money here in our community and help women with breast cancer,” Parnell suggested to Sutton. “It was just spur of the moment. I’m Swedish, we have everything paid for.” Parnell wondered how women in the U.S. could afford to pay for their travel expenses on top of cancer treatment.

Both women still supported the Susan G. Komen organization, but Parnell remembers Sutton had a bad dream one night — that she couldn’t afford to travel for her treatment anymore — and said the next day they should try Parnell’s idea.

Their first auction raised about $5,000. Sutton died before the second auction in October 2004. Since then, the auction has climbed in donations, last year raising more than $30,000. Parnell said the fund has eased the burden for more than 500 women.

Morane said she was “blown away” when she heard from Parnell, and that she could receive money for her medical trips.

“I thanked her over and over again,” Morane said. “It’s just a big lifesaver for me, literally.”

Morane plans to volunteer to help at the annual auction, Oct. 6 at the Hood Canal Vista Pavilion in Port Gamble.

This year’s event includes live- and silent-auction items, featuring generous donations such as vacation packages, flight tickets on Alaska Airlines, paintings by local artists, and more.

Go to www.kathleensutton.org for more information.

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